BrainTrust Query: Passion Blurs Personal vs. Professional

Discussion
Nov 12, 2009
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Commentary by Joel Warady,
Principal, Joel Warady Group

I gave a talk the other day at Northwestern
University and, during the Q & A, someone asked me how one separates
their personal life from their professional life – this coming after I
had suggested that they allow their business contacts to connect with them
on Facebook. In response to the question of separation, I proceeded to
say that it is difficult, and that personal and professional have become
one in the same. I suggested that in today’s connected world, where we
are always in touch with one another, on multiple platforms with a plethora
of devices, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to disconnect from
one life and connect with another.

There were many people who disagreed with
this statement. When I subsequently mentioned it to friends over the weekend,
they too said that I was wrong. They informed me that when Friday rolls
around, their business life stops, and doesn’t start again until Monday.
They further suggested that the fact that I don’t separate my professional
life from my business life was my failing, and that I should structure
my life better.

Well, to paraphrase Ed Harris’ line in the
movie Apollo 13 (one of my favorites):

“With all due respect, what you see as my
biggest failing is actually what I see as my greatest success.”

You see,
in my opinion, all of the people who like to point out that all I do
is work and that I have no separation between my personal and professional
life don’t understand how I arrived at this point. I absolutely love
what I do and, for me, there is little difference between work and play.
When I work, I love what I’m learning; love what I’m achieving; love
what I’m accomplishing; love the challenge that work brings. My professional
life allows me to do what others only dream about, and who wouldn’t want
to live in a world where dreams come true?

What’s my point?
Simply this.

If you find work for which you have passion,
which you enjoy immensely and which you describe with love, it no
longer is really work. It is simply a great life. And you would never
want to separate yourself from a great life.

I’m fortunate. I formed
a life in which I can pursue my passion, and the idea of separating personal
from professional seems counter-intuitive. I can only suggest that you
seek to do the same for yourself: find work, which allows you to pursue
your passion. We are all capable; it is simply a matter of wanting it
badly enough, no matter what it is you do for a living.

Tell me if you think I’m unrealistic.

Discussion
Questions: Has the arrival of social media challenged the traditional
separation between personal and work lives? What should guide the
decision to allow business contacts to connect through Facebook and
other social media tools that also reach friends and family? How
are you personally managing the blurred lines between personal and
professional lives?

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23 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Passion Blurs Personal vs. Professional"


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Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago

Joel brings up some good points and I really haven’t thought about it much. I work in the retail industry, so my week starts on Monday morning and ends Sunday night. I have personal and professional contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn. Should I be setting up 2 different profiles? Nah, I can mix business with pleasure.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Joel, we are kindred spirits! I “work” seven days a week and at all hours and categorizing which activities fall into “business” vs. “personal” would feel like a waste of time (time I could be spent doing what else? Working!) I too consider myself more than fortunate to enjoy my work to that degree while at the same time, not feeling any gaps in my so-called-personal endeavors. Now, as for social media, that’s a whole ‘nother conversation. In our professional development programs, we are fond of saying “You don’t gotta be you all the time.” Duality is a lost art and just because you CAN express your thoughts through multiple platforms doesn’t mean that you should. I never cease to be shocked by Twitter streams that are filled with political diatribes, blogs loaded with spiteful missives, Facebook pages peppered with tales of hangovers–from folks who own businesses or hold influential positions within retail organizations and supplier companies–all of which will follow them as a permanent record for the rest of their lives. All of this… Read more »
David Dorf
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I keep a strict separation of business and personal. For business, I use LinkedIn and a professional blog. For personal, I use Facebook and a personal blog. There is, of course, an intersection of business friends, and they may see duplication across channels.

It takes more time on my part, but I don’t like mixing the two. But I don’t disagree with Joel at all, since his circumstance merits a mixture. But for most people, the separation should be the norm.

Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I agree with Joel 100%.

Truth be known, I’m a little green with envy. Forming a life of work around passion points is where we should all strive to be. Many of us are still striving…but for me, the seamless professional life that allows both personality and personal expression to be seen and heard is truly the IDEAL!

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Great post, Joel. The ability to merge one’s passion with one’s work is most admirable.

If one chooses, it is possible to separate one’s work and personal lives. Some people use LinkedIn for work and Facebook for personal pursuits. Other people, myself included, merge the two. I’ve met many friends through work and see nothing wrong with “friending” business associates on Facebook.

Everyone in business needs to make his/her own decision.

David Zahn
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Joel raises some interesting points and the fact that he feels that the activities he performs to generate a paycheck are not viewed as work, but play, is enviable for many. However, he “doth protesteth too much” in a justification of his position. All work and no play makes Joel a dull boy or some such trite phrase. The ability to live a life that is balanced is the ideal. Perhaps rarely achieved–but that is what most seek (we can argue what constitutes “balance” I suppose but in whatever way it is defined, it likely does not resemble performing career tasks to the exclusion of other things). Joel seems to be enjoying his life and his work and far be for it anyone to be critical of that. More power to him. If he wants to spend his time “on work”–who am I to tell him he is wrong? It occurs that there is more to life than that for most–but perhaps Joel finds happiness and contentment at work. If the other components of his… Read more »
Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
11 years 6 months ago

Yes, I think this is a bit unrealistic–though a good aspiration. Unfortunately, given the imperfections of people and the world, many of us will not end up (at least not on the first or second try) finding employment in an occupation that fully delights us. Second, if your life is all about your work (even if you do enjoy it) then it could suggest you do not have balance.

Enjoying interests outside of and separate from work can bring more balance to what you do, expose you to new and different ideas, and challenge you in new ways. How do you know there isn’t something more interesting and satisfying unless you try different things?

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 6 months ago
I no longer think about it as work/life balance, but as work/life integration. It’s one of the advantages of owning a business, I guess, that I don’t technically have “vacation” or “sick days,” but it has eased a ton of the stress associated with an office job. That said, I try to keep LinkedIn more for business and Facebook more for personal–if you want to know about me as an individual, Facebook is the place (though I don’t update it very much). And I had to split off my Twitter/Facebook integration because all of my non-work friends were confused by the retail-speak coming in over my Twitter feed. I now have two Twitter accounts, and may start a third, since I’m not a big FB user–one for work at RSR, one for personal stuff that links to my FB account, and yet one more for my (hopefully) burgeoning career as a fiction writer. That’s a lot of personas to manage! I can’t be one persona one day and another the next day. It all has… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I’m with Joel on this one, at least 80%. It happens that many of the people whose company I enjoy most in the world are regular business contacts. And I find myself agreeing with Joel’s viewpoint almost entirely. Where it falls apart for me is not making enough time for my family. Too often, my “family” works out to be people I’m involved with in business, and I don’t feel at all proud to confess the number of family events I’ve missed over the years because I was “taking care of business.”

I love what I do; I love my wife and my kids. Now that I’m past 60 and truly see the clock ticking, I’m trying to pull away from business more and put more time into family–not easy when you’ve started your own business in the past year! It’s not a full-blown OMG crisis, but I’m aware of it and working on it. I suspect I’m far from alone.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

What works for Joel and many others (myself included) is a wonderful thing. But note that for many others, the importance of separating work and personal life is just as critical. The Gen Yers in particular insist (and rightly so) on work/life balance. Boomers were workaholics and to this day, still seem to ‘enjoy’ the long hours and crossover of professional and personal lives.

Watch out though if you’re an employer and are expecting your new employees to share your enthusiasm for the job 24/7.

Rick Moss
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

All the best to you Joel.

For me, work is work. I can live with that. I figure that’s why they call it work and not fun.

Goofing off is goofy. Goofy and work don’t generally mix well (as you can see).

John Bajorek
Guest
John Bajorek
11 years 6 months ago

Joel–your point of view is admirable and I believe emphasizes the core benefit of social media–being the ability to control the expression and detail at the individual level. For me, I maintain a separation of church & state between business and personal, primarily as a courtesy to the audience reading the message. When referring to work oriented items (LinkedIn Twitter…) I keep the communications direct and succinct and fairly impersonal (other than an opinion to encourage discussion)–time is scarce and attention wanes quickly. For personal posts, a different type of detail, not normally desired or welcome in business, can be shared.

There is no right answer when defining self expression.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Great post, Joel! It is always inspiring to read about others with that level of passion for what they do.

Going in a slightly different direction, I think the blur of personal and professional isn’t new…think of the old boys networks and their country clubs/lodges/Masonic temples. What is new is that it has been democratized (many more are connected, without the boundaries of old) and better facilitated (LinkedIn is a heck of a lot easier than gossiping to find connections).

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 6 months ago

It’s great that Joel has found a pursuit in his life that brings him such happiness.

There seems to be this implicit divide in the conversation that says “Either I love my work (and want to talk about it all the time) or I hate my work (and can’t wait to get away from it).” I would suggest that for many, including me, work is a dimension of my life. I enjoy it and find much fulfillment from it. I also have other interests that are not related to what I do for work. To me, this speaks to a broader set of interests and a richer life experience. Each of us is different.

As far as Social Media goes, it seems to me that if your life and work are one and the same, use the channels to talk to others who share that passion. If your life has multiple dimensions, separate the two into different channels with different audiences that share the various interests.

Works for me.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Joel, you have struck a nerve among BrainTrusters, I think. Some of the responses in this thread are unusually insightful, even for RW. For those of us who operate small or independent businesses, the lines between our professional and individual personae are indeed blurry. As Nikki correctly observes, any attempt to maintain two or more separate online voices inevitably collapses under the weight of Sybillization (multiple digital personality disorder). And David is spot on when he counsels us to constrain our personal postings to subject matter we’d feel comfortable discussing with our clergy or grandchildren. Keep the personal dramas, politics and drunken party pics off your wall. I’m not sure there’s any valor on Facebook, but discretion is a must. As for myself, I’m active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Website and of course RW, but always with the assumption that everything posted is subject to scrutiny by present and future critics. For employed people, there are some different considerations. First, don’t violate company rules by posting smack on your feed. Second, don’t Tweet or… Read more »
Jeremy Lambertsen
Guest
Jeremy Lambertsen
11 years 6 months ago

As a young professional, I think this topic is key to bridging the generational gap in work/life balance ideas. If you view the two as opponents–opposite sides of a scale–there will be a continual struggle between personal interests and business interests. Conversely, if you view the two as symbiotic, a natural balance or homeostasis, then business can support your personal life and your personal life can support the business.

There is no reason life can’t weave a web of relationships, and all these relationships can work together for the good of mankind.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
11 years 6 months ago
There are a number of different issues incorporated in this Query. Teasing them out may make the answers a bit more clear. 1. Passion-driven enterprises lead to work and play combining. Absolutely! I too love what I am doing, so much that it is difficult to distinguish between personal and business. Also, since I am the owner of my company, it IS personal, not just “business”–what we put out is an extension of the company and of me. So my work and my “life” blend. Sometimes I am doing home stuff at work and a lot of the time I am doing some work stuff at home. My work is so exciting it is hard not to. Given that more than 40% of America hates their jobs, I feel so blessed to have it this way. By the way, that does not mean that I have no other interests or that I do not take time for my family. It just means that I have the flexibility to structure my time for all the things… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Great topic, post and comments about work/life integration. This is something natural for many entrepreneurs and now it’s also something we’re seeing and growing accustomed to for people in corporate America too. How refreshing that people in business are actual people, right? First, I’ll reiterate Joel’s point, as it’s something I always offer as advice to those trying to figure out their “next career move” and that is to find something you love to do. Then, as Joel says, it’s not work. Second, in the early days of Social Media, there was definitely a “separation of church and state” in terms of LinkedIn (for work) and Facebook (for personal). Among other things, Twitter has been a great catalyst for blending those two. Being in a professional services business where relationships are fundamental both to the work and the fun, it’s refreshing and often rewarding to blend the two. When separated, it’s analogous to the mullet haircut (business in the front, party in the back). See http://www.mulletjunky.com for fun on this topic. Last, there has been… Read more »
Susan Parker
Guest
Susan Parker
11 years 6 months ago
Mixing the professional and personal is easy in today’s social media landscape. But just because it is easy does not mean it should be done. Obviously, social media has challenged the traditional separation between personal and work lives. However, it is up to individuals to decide how much of that self they wish to put out there for public consumption. There are number of common-sense guidelines one can employ when using social media sites to connect and share. Good questions to ask when posting anything to personal or professional social media sites are: If this post were to appear on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, would I be proud to have it attributed to me? Could this be considered offensive to anyone I am connected to? Does this post go against an image I wish to maintain both professionally and personally? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it would be wise to reevaluate the reasoning for posting it in the first place. Furthermore, why is it that even though… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

I’m still shocked by the number of people I know who aren’t on Facebook. So the other question to the one posed here is what happens when folks are unwilling to mix business people with social networking. Do they run the risk of invisibility?

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Carol’s viewpoint closely mirrors my own. Yes, Joel, let’s all try to enjoy our work but no, Joel, let’s not try to insist that work and life are one and the same. There are times when we do not, and should not, have to expose our thoughts and activities to the world. There are times when we should remain private and not insist that our acquaintances become friends despite the fact that there are times when we hope they will. Balance, in my view, comes when we decide for ourselves what–and whom–to let in or keep out. That said, I am a firm believer in “to each his own” and if this is the life you choose to lead, that’s excellent. Just don’t try to prescribe it for anyone who prefers living with a certain element of separation.

As for the question–the rules of social media are personal. We can choose what to do and how to do it. Cathy’s comment about invisibility is apt but some of us choose to remain so.

Rick Boretsky
Guest
Rick Boretsky
11 years 5 months ago

What’s said in Social Media does NOT stay in Social Media! I have friends and business associates on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Certainly, how I use these 3 media is very different, and I see no problem mixing a little personal stuff with business and a little business stuff with personal. But I am always conscious of what is said in any of these. It always amazes me to see people make a variety of un-business-like comments on Facebook. If I can see this, anyone can see it–your boss, your colleagues, your distant friends, your mom, or your potential new employer.

Social media certainly provides the mechanism to add a personal flavor to all your business, which is a good thing in helping to connect and foster relationships, but….

Gary Edwards, PhD
Guest
Gary Edwards, PhD
11 years 5 months ago
Social media has certainly brought with it challenges related to separating personal and work lives. For some, there needs to be a separation–either simply out of preference, or necessity to keep certain things private from fellow co-workers and other work partners. For many, however, the lines have blurred so much that personal and work lives have become one and the same–as Joel Warady indicates–so a distinction isn’t needed. Of course it’s widely observed but not always borne out in practice that one needs to be tactful and cautious about personal matters discussed online. You never know when or if potential customers, employees, business partners, competitors, etc, may do some “social media research” before engaging in a business transaction. The conflict in offering up the “real me” online while remaining a representative of the brand you work for every day represents a real challenge. The reverse is also true. For retailers, the trick is to identify an effective means to reach current and prospective customers in the public/private blurred online space, and to do so in… Read more »
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